CANCER TALES Michelle Harding of Suwanee: Cancer is a weed

By Michelle Harding

Cancer is a weed. It suffocates and destroys what is good and pure and true. It takes a beautiful Sunday garden and tramples it with ugliness and despair.

It takes a beautiful Sunday family and rips away a father and a husband. The weed keeps growing. It makes its intentions clear. It does not back down. It does not change its mind.

It grows and develops and clings and pushes. It makes the happy face of a healthy man turn sour and distorted. The weed makes him angry and annoyed.

He won’t say “I love you” anymore. Where he used to give hugs and kisses, he now cracks crude jokes.

It is not his fault. It is all to blame on the weed, on the cancer, on the destruction. It grows. It does not stop. It grows all the way to the back of the brain until it is too late. The man dies.

When I was in eighth grade, life was perfect. When you are young, you feel invincible, untouchable. You pay no attention to what is going on outside of your world.

It is not important. When you get older, you realize how selfish you were, but when you are just a pre-teen, it is all you know. Your life is all you know.

The most important things are what comes on the television on Tuesday night, who is going to the football game on Friday, and what you should wear to school tomorrow.

Needless to say, I was too wrapped up in my own middle school life to realize that something bad was happening to my father.

“Headaches,” my mother said. He always had a headache. It used to make her angry. He would forget to call. He would always be late. I was too selfish to realize.

I was watching television one night when he called from a business trip. While he was trying to make conversation, I was watching T.V.

“How was your day, princess?” he asked.

“Fine, Dad, but I can’t talk. Buffy is on.”


Those were the last words I would have with him before the cancer was discovered and the change took place.

It was different, from that point on. There was a loss of intelligence. There was a loss of caring. There were seizures, and accidents. He was a child.

It went by slow and painfully, but we treasured all the seconds. People would stop and say, “There is not much time.” And I would cry at these words. People would pray, and bring casseroles. We did not cook for a year.

One beautiful July day, about 10 months after the prognosis, God looked at us and smiled. We knew the end was in sight. We all gathered around the bed.

The entire day, all who were important lay on the floor and played board games. We listened to music with the sun streaming through the windows. We watched his favorite movies and laughed while he lay there dying. It was peaceful and tranquil.

A familiar song that had too much meaning came on the radio. The singer told of love and life, and how hard it was to leave all this by dying.

He mentioned me by name, singing, “Goodbye Michelle, it’s hard to die, when all the birds are singing in the sky.”

With this last song, he closed his eyes and left. I was numb. Everyone was numb. I looked at my grandfather, I looked at the walls, and I looked out the window. I would not look at him.

I placed in my head, instead, a memory of the beach, tickling me in the sand and throwing me on his shoulders.

We marched proudly alongside the ocean, forever.

  • Harding, now an adult, was 14-years old when her father died in 2000. She wrote the essay about him for her class when she was attending South Forsyth High School.
  • In 2007, her mother, Joan, was diagnosed with cancer and completed six rounds of chemotherapy. She’ll continue her chemo treatments for the next 2 years.
  • Originally published on Thursday, September 11, 2008
  • Cancer touches us all. Nearly everyone living in metro Atlanta knows of someone living with cancer or dying from it. Email us your story: CYOO@AJC.COM

Comments are closed.